CIA operations in Soviet-occupied Lithuania: ‘Not a story of success’

After the Second World War, the newly established American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collected information on struggles against the Soviet occupation in the Baltic states. But the Soviets convinced the West that people in Lithuania did not support the resistance movement.

When the World War ended, the US feared that there could be another war with the USSR. The American intelligence wanted to find out if the Soviet-occupied countries would support the West in such fights and sent agents to the Baltics, according to Mingailė Jurkutė, a historian and the author of the book CIA Intelligence in the Baltics (1947–1953)\.

“After the Second World War, the US introduced a new type of intelligence gathering – the so-called covert operations. Such operations were in the grey zone legally, because they aimed to change political regimes in other sovereign countries,” Jurkutė said.

According to the historian, the US missions in Eastern Europe and the Baltics were of this novel type. “[CIA] agents were sent to make contact with resistance movements or to set them up,” she said.

The CIA had some information about resistance movements in Lithuania and other Baltic countries. Some freedom fighters managed to cross borders, went to the West and passed documents and stories over to expat organisations.

However, Soviet agents would also be sent to the West, “pretending to be freedom fighters and spreading disinformation”, Jurkutė said.

The Soviets sought to weaken the resistance movements in the Baltics by targeting their domestic and international support. According to the historian, the Soviet government would spread a false story that there were two kinds of resistance – active and passive.

“The Soviets alleged that most of the population supported passive resistance. They said that guerilla commanders were misguided by illusions, did not understand international affairs, and disturbed the population as well as the forces of passive resistance,” Jurkutė explained.

The Soviets were successful in having the CIA to support “passive resistance” that did not even exist.

According to Jurkutė, the US government did not have a real position on resistance movements in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, because they were treated only as tools to achieve US goals.

“The time was also disadvantageous for intelligence,” she added. “The resistance movement in Lithuania was on the rise in 1947 when the CIA had just been founded. Its first mission Redsox started in 1949 when the Lithuanian movement was on the decline.”

“The story of CIA missions in the Baltics was not a story of success. It was a story of the Soviet counterintelligence victory,” Jurkutė said.

The historian collected documents on CIA operations in Soviet Lithuania and other Baltic countries online and in the US National Archives in Washington DC.

“In the documents, we see a significant influence of the Soviet counterintelligence. Common readers could not understand it. So I wanted to give them a tool to read the documents and understand the impact of the Soviets,” Jurkutė said.


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